Yukon Shuts Door on 80% of the World

One of the most unfortunate recent losses from the Yukon is the departure of Ice Wireless and its seminal GSM mobile phone network. That more concern for this departure was not demonstrated – or worse, that no effort seemed exerted to keep them here – by the territorial government is concerning.

Ice’s European-developed GSM platform is the de facto global standard in mobile telephone communications. Over 80% of the mobile handsets in the world operate using GSM. Many of those handsets utilize the most advanced mobile technologies available.

Conversely, the US-originated CDMA system used by Bell Mobility and Latitude Wireless represents that adolescent North American ego desperately grasping for credibility, a prime example of blind Americhismo. CDMA handsets generally lag both stylistically and functionally. Quality of service on CDMA networks is by and large inferior and less dependable.

The technical differences between GSM and CDMA are irrelevant, however, when you consider one simple fact: GSM is an informal global standard. It is the most common mobile telecommunications infrastructure in over 170 countries. With a GSM handset you can generally travel the world and stay in touch.

To Latitude Wireless’ credit, it’s absolutely stupendous that you can travel to Beaver Creek and access your email wirelessly. That community, however, offers limited economic, social, and cultural opportunities compared to major world centres such as London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, and Moscow.

It almost goes without saying that as the Yukon has lost access to a GSM network, the territory has also lost access to the best current and future mobile technologies. Don’t expect to ever see the new Pearl from Blackberry or Apple’s upcoming iPhone in the Yukon. Both devices are, and always will be, GSM-only. Likewise, the entire stable of advanced Sony-Ericsson devices are off-limits, and so are Samsung’s coolest and most ambitious products such as the Blackjack.

Funky gadgets, however, are a minor loss compared to the economic marketplace that the Yukon has decided to forgo along with GSM.

Every major market outside of North America is GSM-based. Isolating the Yukon with only CDMA communications technology effectively shuts out over 2 billion visitors and partners from key economic regions such as Asia and Europe.

Asking prospective international customers and clients to leave their cell phones at home when they come for a visit is not acceptable in global modern society. They’ll simply seek an alternative destination that permits them to chat with their family while away from home.

If Stephen Mills, Ice’s chair, is to be believed, much of the blame for the departure of GSM from the Yukon can be placed squarely on the territorial government’s shoulders. If this is true, then it is an almost incomprehensible example of the short-sightedness of our current leadership.

To team up with only Bell and its CDMA network is foolhardy. The mobile telecommunications industry is one of the fastest growing economic forces in the world and the GSM platform clearly has the momentum. Even in North America, with Roger’s in Canada and Cingular in the US, GSM is the fastest growing mobile technology and threatens to put CDMA into a state of market decline on its own turf in the very near future.

That said, Ice didn’t do much to foster confidence in its ability to implement a comprehensive and dependable GSM network, or even to operate as a credible business.

Their marketing efforts and pseudo-brand identity were nothing short of laughable. They changed business addresses more often than an evicted crack dealer. Their web site, the heart and soul of any mobile phone company, seemed the work of a kindergarten class.

Furthermore, one wonders how Ice ever expected to succeed with their no-name service against the monster brand from the south, Bell. Why not partner with Canada’s national GSM provider, Roger’s, to at least gain a foothold in the collective consumer consciousness?

As GSM-happy as I am, like the government, I would never have signed up with Ice. In a lot of ways, Ice Wireless represents a textbook case of how not to do business. The company’s ineptitude offers a lot of lessons. In a nutshell, however, they had a golden opportunity and just plain flubbed it.

Hopefully any future GSM entrepreneur will study Ice’s failings and take them to heart when he or she launches the next world-friendly cellular service in Whitehorse. And, hey, hurry up, would ya? The iPhone should hit Canada by autumn and my Visa’s burning a hole in my wallet.